Grant Morrison Trade Post: Aztek The Ultimate Man

aztek JLA Presents: Aztek The Ultimate Man (DC)
Written by Grant Morrison & Mark Millar, drawn by N. Steven Harris
Collects Aztek #1-10

After reading Grant Morrison’s full run on Animal Man and the first Doom Patrol volume, I should have moved on to Arkham Asylum and then Batman: Gothic, but I don’t have the former or the latter (anymore). But, looking at his DC work, Aztek: The Ultimate Man, his 1996-1997 comic with Mark Millar, marks the next books he did. Since I had it on hand, it was easy to pull off and read through. I will say that, while I read this book fairly quickly, it was a while ago and quite a bit has happened in the meantime, but I did want to get this review up to keep the flowing going a bit.

Aztek was a completely new hero with no connections to the rest of the DCU and even a new city to protect, Vanity. Powered by a mix of sci-fi tech and fantasy elements, Aztek has been training forever to become a protector and journeyed to Vanity because that’s where something big and bad is supposed to happen. While there, he foils a crime and eventually gets the name Aztek from the local newsfolks. He also takes the identity of a doctor named Curt Falconer and is somehow able to do his job at the hospital, Pretender-style.

In addition to going through some traditional secret identity stuff (juggling the job and being a hero, romance, etc.) Aztek runs into some familiar and brand new villains as well as a few heroes like Green Lantern, Batman and Superman. We also eventually find out a bit more about the organization that trained him and the shadowy folks behind it all.

But, the whole thing felt a bit rushed and maybe even a little sloppy to me. I never felt like it was properly explained how this guy could just become a doctor with no medical training. Crazier yet, he turns out to be the best doctor in the hospital! This also wound up feeling like a 24 issues series crammed into 10 issues and then shifted over into Morrison’s run on JLA which doesn’t do it too many favors. I also don’t dig Harris’ artwork that much. It’s very angular and everything felt too extended, like the whole book was a David Lynch dream sequence. That matches the off-kilter tone of the book, but it’s not my bag.

I just realized that one of the big problems with the book is that the lead is just so bland and boring when not fighting bad guys or finding out about his past. What is there to this guy aside from what he’s done? Not much. He’s your basic good guy hero, one who happens to fall into a pretty great job and a seemingly even better situation towards the end of the run when his mysterious benefactor comes along. He lacks the swagger or charisma of a Tony Stark or Bruce Wayne and seems to out-Clark Kent Clark Kent when it comes to just being a good person trying to stop bad guys.

I also think it’s crazy that, for a few years there, Morrison and Mark Millar were writing comics together. To me it’s like finding out that Neill Blomkamp and Michael Bay had a series of films together. One creator is pretty cerebral, but still does great things in the big-time superhero space while the other goes for popcorn spectacle or “shock” tactics. Anyway, it’s always hard to figure out who wrote what in team-ups like this, but there were definitely moments in this book where I found myself guessing at who added which bit of the tale.

Anyway, I think Aztek is probably the least Morrison-y book of his I’ve ever read. There are some of his signature wild ideas, but overall, it’s a fairly standard superhero story with the problems I already mentioned above. In fact, aside from a few appearances, the book even feels like an independent comic. And, aside from the eventual JLA inclusion that was actually pretty great, Aztek might have been better suited as an Image book if it was, in fact, planned as a much larger story than presented in this trade.

Even with the complaints levied against Aztek, I will be keeping this book in my collection. I’ve still got a bit of that completist vibe, so it feels pretty necessary for my JLA collection. Plus, like most of Morrison’s comics, I think that fairly regular re-readings help fully absorb the material. I’ve since interrupted my chronological Morrison read-through, but I should be getting to the Morrison/Millar Flash run fairly soon. In the meantime, you can check out my older reviews of JLA Volume 1, JLA Volume 2 and Flash: The Human Race.

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